With Help From A Storm, A British Airways 747 Just Broke The Subsonic Trans-Atlantic Record

As Storm Ciara causes flooding and transportation delays across Britain, at least some are finding the weather rather agreeable as the winds from the storm helped British Airways flight BA112 cross the Atlantic in a record time of four hours and 56 minutes.


According to plane-tracking website FlightRadar, the Boeing 747-436 departed John F. Kennedy International Airport at 6:21 PM New York time last night and arrived more than 80 minutes ahead of schedule in Heathrow at 4:47 AM GMT.

Helping the 747 make its way from New York to London in record time was a jetstream moving at speeds in excess of 260 mph. These unusually fast winds are attributed to the same storm system currently battering the British Isles.

Flight BA112 bests the previous record between JFK and Gatwick, London’s other major airport, of five hours and thirteen minutes set around this time last year by a Norwegian 787-9 under similar strong tailwind conditions. That plane managed a top speed of 776 mph, shy of the 801 mph that the British Airways 747 hit last night.

According to the BBC, though the top speed reached by the plane on its journey across the Atlantic was greater than the speed of sound, it wouldn’t have broken the sound barrier as the differential between the speed of the plane and the air moving around it was to low.

While this flight certainly was speedy, it should be noted that the four hours and 56 minute flight time is well short of the outright commercial airliner record set by the Concorde back in 1996. Hitting 1,350 mph, that plane managed to make the crossing in two hours, 52 minutes, and 59 seconds.

Though the speed of this particular flight is largely attributable to the wind conditions, the chances that more trans-Atlantic flights will be able to manage similarly impressive speeds are growling slimmer. Airlines around the world (including British Airways) are retiring their 747s as fuel efficiency considerations are leading a transition to more miserly two-engine designs like the 787 and Airbus A350. Still, the previous record-holder before flight BA 112 was a two-engined 787 so perhaps there still is hope for an even shorter sub-sonic hop from North America to Europe to come.


Bum's Big Stick

British Airways managed to operate the “too expensive” Concorde at a profit every single year it was in operation almost entirely because of the JFK-Heathrow route. The Concorde was horrible, just completely useless, as a subsonic aircraft, which is what the U.S. forced it to be at all times over land. The government was butthurt that the inferior European aircraft industry was able to put together the finest piece of civilian/commercial aircraft engineering that the world will ever see. But from JFK-Heathrow, the Concorde could go go supersonic over the Atlantic a few short minutes after leaving the runway. After using afterburner to initially accelerate to Mach 2, they never had to reheat again. Super-cruise is a feature that was absent from even the most modern fighter jets, only barely 10 years ago did it arrive on the newest fifth-gen fighters. 

It was most fuel-efficient, practically on another planet at Mach 2.2 and 60,000 feet. When BA was testing the Concorde over the North Sea in the early 70's, they sent out an open invitation to all NATO countries inviting them to try to intercept one cruising at Mach 2.2/60K ft from behind with their most modern jet fighters. Intercept meaning starting on the ground and intercepting a Concorde at altitude. The F-14, F-15A, F-104, F-4, Mirage, etc, nothing was able to catch a Concorde except the English Electric Lightning. It was the only jet fighter with the pure climb rate, acceleration, and top speed to reel in. It was an incredible piece of engineering, it’s sad that the world promptly went backwards and slower.